Fiction Thriller Mystery

The change in Frank's behavior towards his brother Mike was like an automatic switch that transformed him from being fierce to friendly. He had gone back having drinks with him for old time’s sake. They even went out for a couple of street pranks at dumbfounded strangers, just like they used to.

They noisily spent the New Year’s Eve revelry with their girlfriends, with Sheena on leave from work duties and the European girl now more acquainted with him. They all were looking forward to a new decade as Frank saw a TV news clip about an outbreak that had begun in a province a continent away. 

He heard the anchor mentioned about the probable need to close national borders to prevent this virus from spreading from one country to another.

What he saw transported him back exactly during that afternoon he was sitting in a corner inside a packed coffee shop outlet and he called Sheena to unload a familiar frustration. The girl responded with a concerned hello. By the suddenness of the phone call she knew he wanted to vent his anger. 

“How lucky am I to have a good-for-nothing brother!” Frank said in a sarcastic tone, “I asked Mike for a favor and he got drunk too early in the day to even accomplish it.” 

The lanky yuppie had been dubbed "Fierce Frank" by his associates for how he gets angsty on a whim. He fought with security guards, store employees, and overly demanding clients.

Already used to hearing her boyfriend say a mouthful about his only sibling, Sheena tried her best to quickly cut short Frank’s tirade. While she was a witness herself to Mike’s incompetence and sheer lack of initiative to do beyond what’s expected of him, she also felt for him and thought her boyfriend had gone way overboard.

The black sheep in the family that may have resulted in being too pampered when he was a child, Mike couldn’t get his bearing in the real world while Frank became a topnotch lawyer. For Frank it had become almost like muscle memory to verbally look down on his brother. 

But it actually hurt Frank that he did. He and Mike were so close to each other growing up until Mike hooked up with a gang. It was a brotherhood disguised as a tight-knit group with good, common causes. That was merely an excuse to bully others, in such case the neophytes, or belt out their frustrations out of people they think they have power over. Mike did get out of it before it was too late. A friend of his died in the hazing process. He was able to escape by the skin of his teeth by dropping out before the last rites. 

But Mike was never the same guy. The wounds and bruises proved too much for him to bear; they buried and burdensome in his head.  

Frank missed their youth when they would stage practical jokes on unsuspecting people, often with Mike’s lead. Once, with them targeting a couple who were too touchy to each other, Mike acted like he had been possessed by some devil while Frank tried to exorcise him. Then at the point when Mike stopped moving and stood like a mannequin, on the count of three they both danced synchronized like a pop duo. They won’t forget the hilarious reaction of the pranked lovers.   

Mild-mannered Sheena tried to diffuse the tension by informing Frank about her upcoming assignment as reporter for a national broadsheet. “Hey Frank, chill! It will be New Year in a few weeks and I was just given the privilege to interview the Defense Minister. He's the man rumored to have a key to the lady President’s heart and the only one who can tell her what to do. Would you like to go with me when I meet him?”

Frank was thrilled but didn’t show it. That’s his defense mechanism to hide his soft spot. In truth he’s a big fan of the famed public servant whom he thought was really the one running the show. “I’ll check my busy schedule,” he said, in a pretentious bored tone. 

“I understand you're busy. So, don't waste time hating your brother, okay,” Sheena swiped in a cheerful way. 

At home the following evening, Frank scolded Mike for his latest slip-up. He’d been aching to say it all day. “You almost cost me a half million-figure client, Mike!”

“I’m sorry, big brother. It won’t happen again,” Mike replied, head bowed.

“Oh, how I wish that’s possible,” he smirked. 

Frank went to bed irritated and felt like wanting to sleep for days. Without fail when he gets enough sleep the wirings in his head tighten up. The loose threads find their alignment.

Strangely, he woke up early in the morning to the sound of incessant coughing. He knew it was his brother. He had a way of coughing that made him easily identifiable. However, this one’s almost non-stop and it caused alarm. Frank hearing such troubling sound changed his mood directly opposite from last night.

“What’s the matter, Mike?”

To his shock, he saw his brother collapsed on the floor. He must be having a seizure, a real one. Things went downhill like quick blinding lights. He asked for a neighbor’s help to carry him into the car then drove to the nearest hospital. They were ushered to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and Frank was asked to stay outside of the room. It’s a scenario that never happened before. Mike’s not the type he’d bring to the hospital. Even his hazing wounds were remedied at home by their then-still alive mother.

After a few hours, a doctor came to see a worried Frank. The physician broke the news to him, I’m so sorry. We did everything we could but unfortunately, your brother became this country’s first casualty of a deadly virus. He must have gotten it from a visiting foreigner he came in contact with and who tested positive with the infection.”

His face ashen-white, Frank waited for a while for the information to register in his mind. He couldn’t believe what the doctor was telling him. Death is a thief but his brother couldn’t be taken from him just like that. The first words that came out of his mouth had to do with the European woman Mike told him about, “You mean the girl he was dating.”

The doctor added, “I know this is a difficult time for you. But may I warn you that this particular virus can’t be ignored and you have to be careful not to contract it. Stay home.”

A minute passed and tears rolled down Frank’s eyes. He hadn’t cried for a hundred years. By his poor treatment of his brother, it looked ironic Mike’s the reason he’s finally releasing those sad wet drops. He asked, “Can I just see the body of my brother?” 

“Again, I’m sorry,” the doctor noted, “His body was immediately cremated. It’s part of a new protocol to keep the virus from spreading.” 

Frank would like to spank himself. Just last night he was rebuking Mike and now he’s gone and couldn’t even see his freshly dead body. He drove home tongue-tied. Flashes of his sweet memories with Mike came over his head. Sheena couldn’t be reached. She must be now busy covering in the field to report about the outbreak. 

Alone, Frank started sobbing like a child. He stared at the walls of their house where he and Mike had so many memories growing up; their mother tending to them and joking around trying to compensate for the absence of their father who went away with his secretary. They may have grown apart but they spent countless buddy nights that emptied cases of beer.

At one point, Mike told him, “I love you, Frank!”

He answered back, awkwardly smiling, “Shut up, you brat! Make sure that lady you’re dating is worth-having for a wife! She’s hot no doubt about that. But she had been cultured differently. I hope compatibility really comes between the two of you.”

The sudden loss of his brother made Frank realize thoughts he wouldn’t have entertained prior to Mike’s demise. Sheena’s right, it’s a waste of time feeling annoyed towards a brother that in truth, for all the harsh words he screamed at his direction, meant so much to him. He wouldn’t even tell him how he truly cared. Many of the angry words were just a way of making Mike realize he could do better than how he did. He was all regret. 

That evening, the most improbable in his life, “Fierce-no-more” Frank slept with a rosary on hand, feeling extremely sad. He prayed, “Dear Lord, I would exchange everything to see Mike back.”   

He felt like wanting to sleep for days.

The next morning, one he woke up not sure if yesterday did happen, as he numbly went down to the living room, he was greeted, to his utter bewilderment, by a crew wearing white gowns amidst a set-up of lights and microphones, clapping their hands and led by the doctor who pronounced his brother’s death, and who then declared, “Congratulations, Frank! Your ordeal is over and our experiment was a success.”

He couldn’t get what was happening and why there were people in their house. He must be dreaming.

The doctor, now sounding like an actor, confirmed, “No, you’re not dreaming, my friend. This place had been wired and we all heard your monologue about your brother. Here's a special couple you may want to see.”

On cue, the back-from-the-dead Mike, with his foreigner girlfriend, appeared from the shadows. He ran towards Frank, hugged him tight. Frank froze. He couldn’t react nor reciprocate his brother’s gesture. He knew he was not seeing a ghost. He wanted to shout but didn’t exactly know what for.

Mike made sure what he thought was in his older brother’s mind would be justified. “It’s the prank of all pranks, bro! It’s all acting. This group paid me big to volunteer for this experiment and see how you would react.” 

Frank felt like passing out. But tears of joy fell off first. He tightened his embrace of Mike. He couldn’t say anything more.

Back in real time, Frank was teary-eyed as well. But he knew what he just saw on the news wasn’t a prank. He asked Sheena. “Is your interview with the Defense Minister really pushing through?”

Sheena, sensing that something must be up and thrilled at the idea that her boyfriend would actually go with her, answered quickly, “Of course, are you now going with me?”

Frank, showing a serious, concerned face, stared at his girlfriend, before saying, “Of course, I need to ask him to tell our President what to do before everyone starts getting sick and blaming her.” 

February 08, 2021 06:47

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